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Discipline: LD/Endurance, CMO, Trail Rider, Cartoonist, Writer, Co-Director/ Green Bean Endurance

May 18, 2010

When LSD ends and Strength Training Begins

We all know the importance of LSD (long slow distance) and building a base of miles on our horses to build bone, muscle, and tendon. Most sources agree on at least a full season of LSD before moving into faster work. After this point the mainstay of LSD can become "junk miles" and takes a backseat to strength training. So what is strength training how would you determine if your horse is ready for it? Based on a season of riding slow either on the trail or at Limited Distance endurance events the horse's mileage for 12 weeks of conditioning (300-360 miles) and a summer of completions and subsequent conditioning between rides ( 400 miles) puts the average at about 760 miles of long slow work. At this point a person can decide they like doing what they are doing, and the result they are getting, and just keep up a base of conditioning to maintain the work they've done, or maybe they are thinking they aren't getting out of their horse and their rides what they want. Maybe there is something lack luster in the performance of the horse such as the horse running out of energy somewhere before the finish, or the horse fails to move up in placement despite diligent work on the part of the rider. Maybe it is time to turn your training and conditioning programs inside out because if you do what you've always done you will get what you've always had. Perhaps it is time for strength training.

What is strength training? Strength training is the use of resistance to muscular contraction to build the strength, anaerobic endurance and size of skeletal muscles. So how can we safely do this with a horse?


Flat Intervals?




  1. All four of those sound like definite muscle builders, and if you've got a large lake with a sandy shore line, that would be great, short of that, walking up-stream in a creek or shallow river would work too. Down stream only sweeps the feet with the water, unless you are facing downstream and backing a short ways upstream...

  2. Yes, all of the above. Build strength by doing stuff that is hard. And don't forget to build flexibility while you are building strength! (dressage lessons are ideal for this)

    I've been thinking about your earlier query re: "junk miles." I don't have a good answer for that, but I do have a lot of thoughts about the issue.

    IMHO, "junk miles" are miles that accomplish nothing other than covering territory and wearing down the shoes. At the end of a "junk" session, the horse has had a marginal physical stress from miles covered, but his brain has not been exercised at all, and the rider hasn't learned or practiced anything either.

    I think that my last endurance horse had a lot of "junk miles" just because we were obliged for many years to ride behind the horse's owner who had issues of her own. When Toad and I started riding solo, the habits were ingrained, and we got stuck--there were no improvements for speed or agility at all in the last 3 years we were together.

    In response to that experience, I've tried to concentrate my time with Fiddle so that we are always stretching our skills in some way. Sometimes we'll go on a route that lets us go faster than normal. Sometimes I'll choose a route that has a bunch of butt-buster hills. Sometimes we'll work on twisty-bendy trails that force us to practice our balance and ability to work together. Fee came to me with a horrible "I hate this and you can't make me do it" attitude, and a tendancy to shut down when she'd gotten too much input.

    My goal is to get her to approach each workout and each step of the workout with her ears forward, looking eagerly at the stuff we will do. I can't just point her at a trail and let her go. Instead, I have to monitor what she's doing, and choose something to challenge her without making her so frustrated that she mentally shuts down. I have to think about her workouts, not only while I'm planning a route, but also mid-route. It's hard. It's good for me, too!

    Okay, so that was long. Tell me if it makes sense?

  3. I think this is where you and I part ways in conditioning philosophy :)

    If I'm trying to go faster, then yes, I would incorporate a variety of strength training. If my horse was running out of energy before the end of a race, I would do more LSD and go slower, or do more rides to try and determine if it was more of a mental problem (so far with Farley, it's always been mental, even though it feels like she is SO TIRED.....until she realizes I not going to leave her out in the middle of nowhere to die a painful death.)

  4. I have felt that Phebes is in a dangerous rut as far as our conditioning program goes. She wants to go out at home and "plug along" the miles, but on a ride she wants to race (which she has not trained for) and I see this as a high risk situation especially with summer and high humidity factoring in pretty soon here. My desire is to take it to another level with her. To stress her enough at home doing various concentrated exercises that she builds stamina to see her through on a ride when she wants to power trot. It unsettles me to suddenly run out of horse at about the 25 mile point and have a deflated horse on trail. I feel I'm not being a good steward of my horse. Since I can't seem to alter her behavior during a ride very well, it makes sense to at least prepare her for what she wants to do even if we have to start in small increments and build. The fastest training ride we've done lately averages 5 mph (stopping at water, and allowing grass nibbling intermittently). We have hills in the mix, so the training is okay, but not challenging enough to build more horse. She needs to start averaging at least 6.5 mph on training rides. It was exhilirating to finally begin working at the canter (she actually canters slower than she trots). 3 half mile repetitions last time. Next time we go out I'm going to only let pulse drop to 120 (instead of 60) before doing the next rep. When she is comfortable with that, we will add a hill into the mix. So her program going forward will hopefully look like:

    Hill sprinting (5) intervals 1 X Weekly up the biggest tough old hill I can find.

    3 mile flat canter intervals 2 X Weekly (broken into (6) 1/2 mile reps).

    LSD(15-18 miles) once every 7-10 days (or back to back 10 mile days at a moderate trotting pace).

    All contingent on good footing of which I currently have none as it is raining again.

    I don't expect any of this to gel into a better horse until maybe September...

  5. Mel makes a good point that MORE long-slow-distance might be a good tool for you. She wants to plunk along? Ask her to collect her trot and then stretch her trot, and then collect again. Ask her to bend or shoulder-in or even half-pass on a wide stretch of trail. Don't bother to "nag" for more speed, but rather make her LSD miles into a real workout so that she is stronger.

    I also understand the frustration of feeling like you can't alter her behavior at rides. ARGH. When I was riding the Toad, I felt this way. I tolerated that feeling for 8 years!

    When I got Fiddle, I had the same "can't change this" feeling, but I decided NOT to tolerate it--and ended up taking THREE YEARS to get her ready for endurance, although she was rising five and physically fit for the sport when she arrived. Now she's had one competition start, and it was EASY. Ears up. Feet forward. No fussing. It's working! But it took a long time and is still a work in progress.

    I wish somebody had told me that on Year #2 with the Toad.

    Best of luck!